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Photo Credit: Β© William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Brogan Rafferty is the most NHL ready defenceman in the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect pool

Even with two defencemen still remaining on our countdown of the top prospects in the Vancouver Canucks organization, Brogan Rafferty is the most NHL-ready defence prospect of them all.

Coming off of his first professional season in the AHL where he was named to the All-Star team and ranked third in scoring among defencemen, Rafferty should be at the top of the list when it comes to which young defenceman can slide onto the third pairing and try to replace Troy Stecher.

Rafferty turned 25 in May, making him the oldest prospect on our list. He will be coming into training camp with a chip on his shoulder after having a tough performance at the training camp that preceded the NHL playoff bubble. Simply put, he looked bad at that camp. He struggled to defend NHL competition and for that reason, we saw Olli Juolevi get the six minutes in heaven during the clinching game four against the Minnesota Wild.

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There’s a lot to like about Rafferty’s game. He is an incredible puck mover who can break the forecheck with his puck carrying ability or his outlet passes. He can run a power play unit and has a good enough shot to do damage on his own.

The questions surrounding Rafferty are all about his defending. He looked strong in the AHL but the NHL is a different animal. That being said, he made the least amount of clear defensive mistakes out of the Utica Comets defencemen last season. I remember looking back at film for my deep dive on Rafferty back in May and it took a handful of games for me to even find one big mistake in his own end. With other Comets defencemen like Jalen Chatfield and Olli Juolevi, it was almost a nightly occurrence.

This next clip won’t be seen on a lot of highlight reels but it’s a great example of Rafferty making an excellent defensive play and then being able to quickly transition the puck to create a threat in the offensive zone while making some great passes along the way.

One of the things that could hold Rafferty back is his inability to kill penalties. He was rarely on the ice last season when the Comets were shorthanded and that could be a reason why the Canucks choose to go with Juolevi over Rafferty out of camp. Juolevi was the Comets’ best penalty killer last season and if he’s able to do it at the NHL level, the Canucks can then keep Nate Schmidt off the penalty kill and throw out the pairing of Quinn Hughes and Schmidt as a quick response pairing after each kill.

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Rafferty is not undersized, coming in at 6’2″ and just shy of 200 pounds, he is big enough to use his strength as an advantage when it comes to defending. Back when we talked in May, he was confident in his defensive game and believes the only reason people bring it up as a negative is because there’s nothing in his offensive game to criticize.

“So, I think part of the reason why some people may look at my defensive game as a liability is because there’s really no room for that argument on the offensive side of my game this year. They don’t have an argument for the offensive side so they try to find something on the defensive side that they don’t like. I think I’m a well-rounded defenceman and I take pride in my defensive game. I continue to work on it every year and I think every season that goes by I’ve adjusted, watched video, asked the coaching staff and other players what I need to do to get better on the defensive side of the puck. Every year I see progression so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”

He is going to need to keep seeing progression and take his defensive game to another level if he wants to be a mainstay in the Canucks’ lineup. His offensive ability would fit nicely with Jordie Benn’s defensive-minded game on a third pairing or if Juolevi and Rafferty come into camp and impress the Canucks brass, they could potentially hold the third pairing down as a duo. Unfortunately, Juolevi and Rafferty did not play together a lot in Utica, so they were very rarely on the ice together and didn’t get a chance to build much chemistry.

The most impressive thing about Rafferty is his ability to be effective in the offensive zone and during transitions from defending to attacking in the blink of an eye. This had to be his best play of the 2019-20 season, it was magic.

As a right-shot defencemen, he does have a path to make the team out of camp but he will have to show that he is able to defend against NHL players to fully earn that spot. He is likely going to be one of the top seven defencemen and will see NHL time this coming year. At 25 years old, it’s time for him to show that he can do it.

I’ve seen too much good from him at the AHL level to not believe he can be an NHL contributor. The ceiling for him is likely something like what we saw from Tyler Myers last season. Rafferty is not going to be a top pairing guy but could be a useful bottom four defenceman who can carry the puck, work a second power play unit, and provide some depth scoring for the defence corps.

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He’s my bet to be the defenceman who emerges as the third pairing defenceman to play with Benn and it’s because he’s the most NHL ready defenceman out of Juolevi, Chatfield and Jack Rathbone.